When Einstein came to Bern patent office in 1902 he entered an institution in which the triumph of the electrical over the mechanical was already wired to reams of modernity. Here clock coordination was a practical problem (trains, troops, telegraphs) demanding workable, patentable solutions in exactly his area of greatest professional expertise: precision electromechanical instrumentation. The patent office was anything but the lonely deep-sea lightboat that the no-longer young Einstein had longed for as he spoke to the Albert Hall audience in the dark days of 1933. Reviewing one patent after another in the Bern Office, Einstein had a grandstand seat for the great march of modern technologies. And as coordinated clocks were paraded by they were not traveling alone. The network of electrical chrono-coordination provided political, cultural, and technical unity all at once. Einstein seized on this new, conventional, world-spanning simultaneity machine and installed it at the principled beginning of his new physics.
It was, in Galison's eyes, no accident that Einstein finds himself in the patent office which itself was no physics backwater. There was an intersection of thoughts and things, culture and creation, politics and philosophy swirling around the invention of relativity theory. As Galison says
Staring through the metaphorical we can find the literal, through the literal we can see the metaphorical.I think this is not just true of the emergence of relativity but of all our grand discoveries. Our highest abstractions are woven through with the concrete of breath drawn upon breath and the clash of humans in the sweat and mire of daily life. This is the sacred as profane, the transformation of embodied life into distilled essence and back again. This is our wondrous gift in being human.